Sunday, August 8, 2021

The 3 Moments of Greatest Darkness: Upper Room, Gethsemane, and Golgotha

I dreamt I was running through an incredibly dark forest. I couldn't see an inch in front of my face. I looked down and I couldn’t see my own hands. But I kept running. I was afraid. It was dark and mysterious. So dark. Then I realized there was something pursuing me. Looked like a scary wolf of some kind. It was trying to bite me as I ran. Then it got brighter, and I realized there were other animals there, trying to protect me.

In this life, we as Christians must face down the darkness. That is part of our mission here. To go through many trials and tribulations on our way to the kingdom. One of the trials is of course long treks through darkness and pain. Such has been recent times for me. We all go through times like these, as Christians, don’t we? Yes we do.

As I was driving to Flint the other day, I thought about an analogy of sorts. If you’ve ever watched funny videos online or on television, maybe you’ve seen the videos that parents will sometimes make of their children when they get their wisdom teeth taken out. They often will have to take their children home while they are on pain drugs. They can’t quite talk right, and they’re very confused and often afraid.

I recall one in particular, where the child asked his mother, “Will this be forever?” And what he was asking was, is this drug eventually going to wear off? What a scary thought though, that you might never stop feeling dizzy, confused, unable to speak, right?

Often times we wonder as we go through trials in this life, through the darkness we wonder, “Will this be forever?” Will this ever end? And thankfully we know that yes, any trial in this life has an expiration date. It will end eventually, maybe after a few weeks, or a few days, or a few years, depending on what it is.

But then I realized something terrifying. For many, many people, people who reject Jesus, people who live in sin, when they die, they go to a place of pain and torment, called hell. And they will be terrified, and they’ll be asking themselves, “Will this be forever?” And they will realize very quickly that yes, this will be forever. They will be in incredible pain, fear, surrounded by demons mocking them and torturing them, for all time. It will never end. They will never be OK again.

When applying that to my current trials over the last few months, I realized, it’s better to suffer now on the Earth, through pitch black darkness, for years, months, and weeks, rather than to suffer for all eternity, for thousands and millions of years in hell, because I lived in sin, or turned away from the calling the Lord had for me in my life.

When my friend Chelsey’s grandfather passed away, he died in a house fire. And Chelsey was so sad that he had to die in such a painful way. But Chelsey also told me, that the Lord really spoke to her and said, isn’t it better, for him to have only suffered a few minutes, than for him to have gone to hell, and been in the fire forever, and never able to escape it? And Chelsey knew it was true. It was better that now her grandfather was in paradise. Because they brought him close and ministered to him.

In the saga of the life of Jesus today, we come to the moments of darkness. We see the last night that Jesus spent with his beloved best friends and disciples. We see his agony and fear and sorrow in the garden of gethsemane, and we see the moment of the worst darkness in our world’s history, the moments in which Jesus was crucified on the cross.

As much as Jesus feared the cross, and hoped for some way to escape it, he went willingly, knowing that a short time of sorrow would give birth to an eternity of joy and reconciliation between God and man.

Jesus parting words to his disciples: Upper Room Discourse 
John Chapter 14:“Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. And you know the way where I am going.”

Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."

Here we see the glorious formula, God the Father is in Jesus, and Jesus is in the Father. And Jesus tells us that if we love Jesus, then Jesus lives in us, and we live in Jesus. Just as God the Father is in heaven and Jesus was on Earth, and he had the Father within him, so now Jesus is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God, and we have Jesus within us, and we live within Jesus in heaven right now. 

Jesus encourages his disciples, his friends, those he loves and those who love him, to not lose heart. Imagine what it must've been like to be with Jesus everyday! Wake up with him, go to bed knowing he's in the tent next to yours. Listen to him teach. Have quiet conversations with him around the camp fire. Give him a hug. See him smile at you. Wow, it must've been so wonderful. It must've been like being in the presence of joy itself. It must've made them feel so courageous and bold.  It must've made them feel so safe and loved. Wow. 

Yet these moments are sorrowful. And the disciples are afraid and sad. They don't want Jesus to leave. They don't to be without Him. But they know these things must happen. And Jesus encourages them not to be afraid and to put their faith in God. Then they leave the room for the garden. 

Garden of Gethsemane
Matthew 26:36-46 NIV says, “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Here we see the moment of Jesus' humanity. He is actually asking the Father to change the plan, because he's so afraid or disturbed at what will happen on the cross. But Jesus also says, not my will be done but yours.  A good line to repeat in our prayer life as well, when things don't go our way. The disciples keep falling asleep. But Jesus keeps trying to remind them to pray, because he knows they are about to go through a time of testing. They are about to be sifted by Satan, you might say. 

And as we know, all the disciples fled, aside from John, and the women, and hid while Jesus was being crucified. Their leader, Peter, failed the worst, by denying Jesus three times. They were sifted indeed, and failed their tests. Never-the-less, Jesus still forgave all them and blessed them anyway.  Amazing. 

As Jesus prayed, before his great final trial, eventually, the betrayer, Judas came with the romans and temple guards, and they arrested Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. And they took Jesus, to crucify him.

The Crucifixion at Golgotha 
Matthew 27:32-56, “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.

38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
The Death of Jesus

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

Finally, the moment of ultimate darkness came. Life can get dark for us on Earth as Christians. We face extremely challenging trials in our lives don't we? But we know from the scriptures that we should not regard the fiery trials we face as if something strange were happening. In fact, the trials and struggles we face are completely normal for Christians! And we can rest assured that every Christian, in every country, whether it be Indonesia, China, South Africa, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, or Cuba, or Brazil, are all going through the exact same trials, that are molding them more and more into Christ-likeness. 

Jesus faced his darkest moment at Golgotha. He was nailed to the cross and hoisted into the air, the base of the cross dropped into a hole in the ground. A crowd gathered around to mock him. They shook their heads in disgust, assuming he had done great evil. Yet he was perfect and innocent.  He had done nothing wrong.  The teachers of the law and pharisees mocked him and challenged him to save himself.  

From noon to 3pm it went completely dark. That must've been a moment where many wondered if they might actually be killing the son of God. In fact historians outside the Bible mention the darkness that came. They also mentioned the earthquake that occurred at around 3pm on that day.  Ultimate darkness.  Jesus cried out, Father father why have you forsaken me?

Jesus paid the price for our sins.  It's called the great exchange. If we believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, and follow Jesus, then our sins are nailed to the cross with Christ, and Christ wipes them out.  And Christ gives to us his perfect righteousness. In fact, in Revelation we see that in heaven the saints wear white robes. What are these white robes? They are the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And so we are made morally right in Christ, and we are then fit for heaven, for paradise.  

But what does it take to get there? It takes the moments of great darkness, that Jesus faced.  And for each of us, it takes the moments of darkness we face throughout our lives. The trials and tribulations and persecutions we face are normal for Christians, and we must face them and overcome them, on our way to paradise, eternal life. Amen.